Hospital group goes extra mile to raise money for leukemia charity

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In her own words, Lisa Bowling is lazy. But after her recent 100-mile bike ride, others may consider her anything but.

Mrs. Bowling, 28, of Cranberry, was among 10 members of the West Penn Allegheny Health System corporate team who rode June 3 in America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride at Lake Tahoe, Nev., in conjunction with Team in Training to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The team was led by James Rossetti, associate director of the cell transplantation program at West Penn Hospital. Dr. Rossetti, 39, of Hampton, was in his fourth ride to raise money and awareness for the society.

Mrs. Bowling, who works with Dr. Rossetti as a nurse coordinator with the outpatients through the transplantation program, started biking in March when she purchased a road bike.

"Dr. Rossetti is a very convincing person," she joked. "But I see these patients every day, I know what they are going through."

Once she bought her bike, Mrs. Bowling started training with team members, including Mike Masarik, 49, of Fawn, a production manager at a tool and die company who also was relatively new to road biking. Mr. Masarik's wife, Chris, works with Dr. Rossetti.

"When I heard about what he was doing, it seemed like such a good cause. I've been a mountain biker, but have only been on a road bike for about three months," he said.

The West Penn team also included Art Pierce of Hampton, Joseph and Lara Ronan of Sewickley, Kari Ham of West Mifflin, Lindsay Lucas and Stephen Gardner of Pittsburgh and Dan Ricci of New York City.

The team would meet a few times a week at North Park and go on long rides,usually between 30 to 50 milest.

"Like I said, I'm lazy, so I was always complaining about the hills and I was always behind everyone else," Mrs. Bowling said. "But everyone in the group was so great and encouraging."

Mrs. Bowling soon found herself taking on the hills of Western Pennsylvania, which turned out to be good training for the 100-mile course in Lake Tahoe.

"We started going up this big hill and I started freaking out. Then I thought, 'Wait, you are from Pittsburgh. You trained on hills,' " she said.

According to Dr. Rossetti, the team had to raise $2,000 per person to qualify for the event. Members far exceeded the amount, raising almost $50,000.

"At the Inspiration Dinner the night before the race, we were recognized for having raised the third-highest amount for a corporate team in the whole country. Considering that our team was much smaller and didn't have matching funds, we were really proud," he said.

The dinner served to motivate the riders in more ways than one.

Dr. Rossetti said that he had taken place cards made by one of their patients, Jack Clark, who has served as an inspiration for the team. He placed the cards on their seats to inspire the riders.

Mr. Masarik said that stories from survivors and non-survivors' family members moved him.

"When you see how these people have been affected and then know that we have raised money to help this cause, everything we did pales in comparison," he said.

Mrs. Bowling felt the same way.

"I was very, very nervous," she said. "I kept thinking, 'What if I get a bad cramp? What if I don't eat enough?' But at the dinner, it made me realize that the ride was nothing compared to what these people had gone through," she said.

The words of the survivors and their patients fueled their rides, according to all three team members. Mrs. Bowling held one young patient they had lost close to her thoughts through the event.

"He was always in my mind," she said.

According to Emily Heinicka, campaign coordinator for the society, the West Penn team is one of the first corporate teams for the Western Pa./West Virginia chapter.

"They've set a good example for other teams in the future, " she said. "The money raised by the team helps us help more people."

All team members finished the ride, an accomplishment Dr. Rossetti is extremely proud of.

"It was such a great event and to know we all made it, I can't put it into words," he said.

Mrs. Bowling agreed. "It felt so great to finish. I couldn't believe that I could accomplish anything that crazy," she said.

Dr. Rossetti has high hopes for the West Penn team.

"This ride represents so many things, but primarily, we raise money to help find a treatment and cure so our patients can live better lives," he said, "It is my real hope this team continues and grows."


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer:


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